But the nation’s leaders are keenly aware of that, too, and as they face their greatest turmoil in years, they appear to have come prepared: The government has spent years ensuring that the military’s top commanders are deeply invested in the status quo.
In a single day Mr. Maduro promoted 195 officers to the rank of general. Venezuelan generals, more than 2,000 strong, enjoy a range of privileges, from lucrative control of the food supply to favorable rates for exchanging dollars.
Eleven of the 23 state governors in Venezuela are current or retired generals, along with 11 heads of the 30 ministries, giving them an extraordinary stake in preserving the government’s control over the country.
And the defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, an army general, has been granted an even more lucrative arrangement, with expanded powers to control the country’s ports, as well as parts of the oil and mining industries.
“Maduro has made sure to give many rewards to senior military officers in exchange for loyalty,” said John Polga-Hecimovich, a political scientist who studies Venezuela at the United States Naval Academy. “While he is completely dependent on them to stay in power, they have much to lose if he is gone.”
Mr. Maduro’s crackdown against the street protests is drawing widespread condemnation. On Tuesday, the United Nations said that the government had used excessive force against demonstrators and that security forces and pro-government armed groups had caused more than half of the 124 deaths that have accompanied this year’s protests. Eight members of security forces had been killed, the United Nations said.
Mr. Polga-Hecimovich pointed to what he called the “four P’s” — purges, promotions, politics and profit — that have kept many military…